Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Did you ever think about how many roads there are in the United States?  The US Department of Transportation says that as of 2000, there were 3,951,098 miles of roads, which includes interstates, local roads and other arterials. If you think about it, it’s kind of strange how, when you step onto your street, that street is connected to a street in California, or in New York, or in the Keys of Florida by this monstrous network of ribbon-like asphalt and concrete.

We take it for granted, but what if there were no roads.  Think about having to get through the desert or through mountain passes through a never-ending line of uneven and often treacherous terrain.  But we have these long, flat and mostly smooth surfaces we’ve created to roll our cars down.  When you think of it like that, it’s really a neat thing.

Have you ever been driving somewhere pretty desolate, such as Interstate 40 through the Southwest and wondered how in heck the road was ever built?  Those long stretches where you are going 75 mph for hours and thought, when did they make this road, how many people had to do it, and how long did it take?  Did they ship people in from miles around each day, or did they stay in tents or something?

You get this feel too when you are in an airplane and see either networks of fragile looking roads in cities that look perfect from the air, or when you are over the desert you see one long, thin road going through wastelands. 

One of my favorite roads, and one that I travel a lot, is Interstate 5 over the Grapevine.  Once you leave the city of Santa Clarita, the road becomes much less crowded, and that one stretch of road, within an hour, takes you from 500 feet above sea level, to 4144 feet above sea level and back again.  Without that road, those mountains would be a barrier to the California Central Valley.

Another favorite stretch of mine is the 86 in California.  It takes you from Indio to Westmoreland.  It is so astonishingly vacant at times that you wonder if you’ll ever see another person.  You get to pass by the somehow-still-surviving communities of Desert Shores, Salton Beach and Salton city.  I’ve gotten out of the car there a few times to find a Marina where, apparently, in the 1950’s, the area was a popular recreation destination for entertainment types such as the Rat Pack.  There were hotels and I’ve seen pictures of water-skiers.  But I’ll save more on those findings in another post.

But again, the thing that is amazing in some way that we forget is that we can get in our car, pull it out of our driveway, and be in any of an infinite number of places because they are all connected by roads someone has built.